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Example: ribbon tweeters

Hi,

The audibility of distortions is certainly not clear cut -- lots of research going on -- but there are some areas where what you measure and what you hear are strongly correlated. I'll give you one very straightforward example: ribbon tweeters.

We've been measuring speakers with ribbon tweeters for well over a decade and, often, we've found that reviewers hear a harsh, aggressive sound from them when the music gets turned up. If you look at the distortion on ribbons, below about 3500Hz the distortion rises at an increasing rate until you get to about 2000Hz, which is where many companies choose to cross them over in two-ways to get a proper blend with the mid-woofer, where it wants to shoot through the roof. Oftentimes, it's over 10%, even higher.

What's happening? From what I can tell, most ribbons don't have the excursion to reproduce frequencies that low, so it's cranking out a distorted sound. Simple as that -- and it's easily measurable. Funny thing is, I was talking to a recording engineer about this and he said, "You know what, sax players love ribbon microphones, because they have bite." That bite, I bet, is that harsh, aggressiveness you can hear from a ribbon tweeter. In fact, nowadays when we get a ribbon-based speaker in, whenever I can, I'll often ask the designer, "How do you deal with the distortion?" When they know what they're doing, they'll tell you.

Anyway, that's one example where you can look at the distortion plot and correlate it very strongly with the sound.

Doug Schneider
SoundStage!


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